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Gamecocks fall in CWS finals; Arizona wins National Championship


I keep thinking I should be sad.  Or maybe disappointed.  Or possibly heartbroken.  But I’m really none of those things.  Of course I didn’t like to see the Gamecocks lose in the CWS finals.  I didn’t like it in 2002 either.  But just like in 2002, I am so proud of this team for making it so far.  In 2002, we lost to a Texas team who was way out of our league.  Last night, we lost to an Arizona team that had an unbelievable post-season run.  A team who outplayed on us every level.  And a team who most certainly deserved to win the National Championship.  So Congratulations to the Arizona Wildcats on winning the 2012 CWS National Championship.

Last year, I had the pleasure to put down in words how wonderful life is with the Gamecocks in the world (apologies to Elton John).  This year, despite a loss, I can say with certainty that I am so proud of the Gamecocks.  This team was not supposed to any of the things they accomplished this year.  Remember that 1-5 start in SEC play, including being swept at Kentucky?  Showing a resilience that few thought they possessed, this team bounced back by taking 2 of 3 from Vanderbilt and Tennessee, then sweeping Mississippi State, Auburn, and Alabama.  This team went from dead last in the SEC to playing in the CWS finals.  In spite of the adversity, the Gamecocks kept a 22 post season game win streak going strong until a fateful June meeting with Arkansas.  Even after that, South Carolina showed supreme resilience, winning 3 games in 33 hours to earn a hot date with Arizona in the finals.

And then it all came crashing down.  Arizona, supremely well-rested and riding the arms of their starting pitchers, an utterly outstanding defense, and an offense that just kept producing, outplayed the Gamecocks on every level.  It looked like the Gamecocks might have a shot at redemption on Monday night behind Michael Roth, who started his 8th career game at the CWS, setting a record.  Roth kept the ‘Cocks in it, but once again the offense came up short, managing only 1 run on 3 hits.  Those kind of offensive numbers won’t win championships.  But that’s ok.  We all knew it had to end sometime.

Although, I’m not positive that is has ended.  As Roth, Christian Walker, Adam Matthews, Matt Price, and Evan Marzilli prepare to head off to their respective big league careers, they will surely take a moment to pass on the wisdom, dugout antics, and championship attitude to those rising up to take their places.  As surely as Jordan Montgomery looked like Roth, Jr. on the mound against Arkansas, Tanner English, Joey Pankake, and Grayson Greiner will step up into that same sort of leadership role to carry on the tradition of determination, grit, and winning anyway that those of us in Columbia have come to expect.  Yes, as our veteran players transition to the next phases of their respective careers, they will be passing the torch to the ones left behind.

The past three years have been something special.  It’s been silly, fun, heart stopping, tear filled (in a good way), and exciting.   So thank you to all of the young men who have made up the Gamecocks’ roster for the past three years.  To all of you who played your hearts out to do something unprecedented in Carolina sports.  To the heroes whose names will live on in South Carolina baseball lore – Whit Merrifield, Jackie Bradley Jr., Scott Wingo, Christian Walker, Michael Roth, Matt Price – and to those whose quiet contributions changed the course of games – Bayler Teal, Charlie Peters, Brady Thomas, Robert Beary, Evan Marzilli, Adam Matthews, Tyler Webb, John Taylor – we thank you.  From the very bottom of our hearts, we thank you.  Forever to Thee, indeed.

I would strongly suggest you check out this article by Garnet Report as well.  A wonderful tribute to the Gamecocks.

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Gamecocks fall to Arizona, 5-1, in Game 1 of CWS Championship Series


In case you missed the memo….Arizona is the real deal.  They have one of the best offenses in the country, with 8 players boasting a batting average of over .300, to make for a team average of .331.  As a team, they have 23 home runs and have drawn 232 walks.  They also have a .969 fielding percentage.  Their team ERA is 3.74, a stat that has been inflated due to a not so awesome bullpen.  Their starter for tonight’s game, Kurt Heyer, has a 13-2 record and a 2.24 ERA.  He’s thrown 153 innings this year, walked 28, and struck out 113.  Last night’s starter, Konner Wade, has pitched two complete games in this year’s CWS, has an 11-3 record (prior to last night’s game), 105 Ks and 37 walks.  He’s thrown 136.1 innings this season.

Everything in that paragraph points to why the Gamecocks didn’t win last night.  Against a team like Arizona, the ‘Cocks need to be flawless, essentially playing the single best series of the entire season.  They didn’t have it yesterday.  A throwing error from Grayson Greiner (which, btw, does not mean that Coach Tanner should immediately pull him from the game in favor of Dante Rosenberg), a base running blunder by Adam Matthews (whose decision would have paid off if Arizona’s defense wasn’t so good), an error by Joey Pankake (which seemed to me to be more of a bad hop that he couldn’t handle), and a shaky pitching performance from Forrest Koumas (who hadn’t thrown in a month), set the tone for the night.  Altogether, these miscues aren’t necessarily cause for alarm.  The problem stems from the fact that our offense can’t seem to string hits together to atone for those mistakes.

There were a few high points – Koumas struck out the side in the 2nd, Evan Beal pitched 5 solid innings of relief, and Nolan Belcher (who, in my opinion, is extremely under-used) got out of  huge jam in the 8th by quickly retiring the two batters he faced.  Greiner had a nice double in the 6th, and ultimately went on to score on a single from Marzilli.  But everything else?  Mediocre at best.

Not that Arizona is invincible.  If the Gamecocks can be patient, work the count, and run up the pitch count, the Wildcats will be forced to go to their bullpen, which hasn’t exactly been rock steady this season.  Michael Roth will start for the Gamecocks tonight.  If he can get a little run support, and some perfectly executed defense, the Gamecocks will be in a position to win this one.  But there is no room for error.  At all.  As the Wildcats showed last night.

Side notes…

  • Fun things to do while your team is losing?  Play the Mike Patrick drinking game.  Make up your own rules, but some of my favorites are repeated stories like what LB stands for, that Pankake went to IHOP on National Pancake Day,  or that Tanner English has excellent speed on the base paths.
  • There’s a Fear the Fish song.  Check it out here:
  •  And just to get you pumped up…

Tonight’s game is on ESPN and ESPN3.com at 8 p.m.  The Gamecocks will be the home team.

Gamecocks send Arkansas packing; Advance to the CWS finals


The Gamecocks managed to do the unthinkable, and won three games in 33 hours.  First they beat Kent State, then shut out Arkansas.  The next night, they went on to play an Arkansas team who wouldn’t go down without a fight. 

The Hogs jumped out to an early lead, and for awhile it looked like they were set for a match with Arizona in the final.  The Gamecocks finally broke through in the 5th inning on an RBI single from Joey Pankake.  Marzilli then walked to load the bases.  The Gamecocks tied the game at 2 after Walker walked with the bases loaded.  That ended the night for Arkansas starter DJ Baxendale, who threw an outstanding game for the Hogs.  Carolina pulled ahead for good in the 7th, as Arkansas once again walked in a run.

This game really could have gone either way.  There were more than a few bad calls (for both teams), a tiny strike zone that seemed to change with each pitch, and two teams who desperately wanted to stay in Omaha.  Arkansas played an amazing game.  The Gamecocks just happened to get lucky enough to win.  And so Arkansas heads home and South Carolina is, for the third consecutive year, playing in the CWS final series.  This time their opponent is Arizona, a team who has been cruising through the post-season.

Arizona boasts one of the best offenses in the country.  South Carolina’s pitching staff is going to need to be flawless to keep the Wildcats’ bats at bay.  And the Gamecocks are going to need to find a spark to ignite their own offense if they want to have a chance at repeating again.

It looks like Forrest Koumas will get the start for the Gamecocks tonight.  Koumas hasn’t pitched much this year – he battled an elbow injury in the latter part of the season, though he did pitch in the SEC tournament.  Koumas has been pretty steady for the Gameocks, and he certainly knows how to pitch in the CWS.  Koumas will go up against Konner Wade, who last pitched Sunday against UCLA, when he threw a 5-hit shutout.  Between Arizona’s stellar hitting and Wade’s pitching, the Gamecocks may be facing an uphill battle.  That, however, hasn’t stopped Carolina yet.  

FSU and Kent State say farewell; Gamecocks shut out Arkansas


Karma finally caught up with Florida State on Thursday night, as they fell to Arizona 10-3, in a fashion similar to the way FSU had been dismantling opponents all through the post-season.  By the 5th inning, I think I can safely say that everyone in Columbia and Fayetteville were ready for the umps to implement a mercy rule, but alas, all post-season games must go at least 9 innings.  Finally, around 8:30 EDT, the game ended.  Arizona advances to the final series with the distinct advantage of extra rest, and FSU heads back to Tallahassee.

While Arizona was preparing their assault on FSU, the Gamecocks were playing for their lives against Kent State.  After being rained out on Wednesday night, the NCAA and ESPN, in their infinite wisdom, decided that rather than use the built in off-day to be used in case of bad weather, the elimination game would be played at noon EDT, and the winner would have to play again that night.  Way to make that one fair guys.  Really.  South Carolina is the 2 time defending national champions…shouldn’t we have some pull here?  It ended up not making a difference, at least not on Thursday, but it may down the road.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t terrified going into the Kent State game.  The Golden Flashes had momentum, determination, and a desire to prove themselves.  Hmmm…sounds a bit like the 2010 Gamecocks.  Plus Kent State had been relatively solid throughout the tournament, making a few mistakes here and there, but in general looking like they deserved to be in Omaha.  Especially after defeating Florida on Monday.  So you can see why I was worried.  I shouldn’t have been.  With Michael Roth on the hill, throwing better than I’ve ever seen him throw, this one was well within the Gamecocks’ grasp.  The star of this game was undoubtedly Roth, but let’s give credit to the bottom half of the lineup for 4 hits in the 2nd to score the Gamecocks’ first 2 runs, and to LB Dantzler who launched one over the right field bullpen to put the Gamecocks up 4-1 for good.  I’m a bit sad to see Kent State go – they were really fun to watch, and they seem like a classy bunch of guys.  Their coach certainly only had good things to say after the game, calling Roth “biggest superstar our game has.  “He throws 85 mph. He just knows how to pitch. He does everything the right way. Great student. I’ve got a ton of respect for him.”  Thanks for the kind words Coach.  I’m sure we’ll see your team back in Omaha soon.

Roth had a game that will live on in the history books.  He now officially owns the record for most innings pitched in the CWS with 53.2.  He has never allowed more than 3 earned runs in a CWS start.  On Thursday, he threw a complete game 2-hitter, and retired the last 22 batters he faced.  Over the course of 9 innings, he threw 106 pitches, 70 of which were strikes.  He didn’t walk a batter, and only had one 3-ball count, while striking out 8.  This was, hands-down, Michael Roth’s best performance as a pitcher.  And probably the one that will earn him a statue in front of Carolina Stadium.  But the best part about Roth’s stellar performance?  By throwing a complete game, it meant that the entire pitching staff (with the exception of Monday’s starter Colby Holmes) were rested and fresh to go against Arkansas that night if needed.

If I was nervous about playing Kent State, it was nothing compared to how twitchy I was while waiting for the Carolina / Arkansas game to start.  Ray Tanner decided to start freshman Jordan Montgomery, who’d had a pretty solid year, but hadn’t  pitched in about a month.  As usual, Tanner’s decision paid off, and Monty threw 8 shutout innings.  He walked one (and hit a batter), struck out 5, and threw 89 pitches, 56 of which were strikes.  Monty came out in the 9th in favor of Matt Price, who did his usual thing and earned his 13th save.  While watching Monty, did anyone else have flashbacks of Roth’s complete game against Clemson in Omaha in 2010?  Because I sure did.

That’s not to say that Monty could have done it by himself.  He was able to pitch with a 2 run lead, thanks to back-to-back doubles from Erik Payne & Grayson Greiner, and a base hit from Chase Vergason.  After that, Arkansas starter Randall Fant was chased from the game, and the bullpen shut down the Gamecocks.  But it didn’t matter.  Thanks to some outstanding defense, especially from Joey Pankake and Christian Walker, the Gamecocks were equally able to shut down the Hogs.  Carolina ultimately won the game, 2-0, setting up a rematch for Friday night at 9 p.m. EDT.

If you were watching Thursday’s games, you were watching history being made.  Let’s just hope that that the Gamecocks can keep that spark going through tonight’s contest.  The winner has a hot date with Arizona in the CWS final series which starts on Sunday.  Colby Holmes will start the game for South Carolina, and DJ Baxendale will go for Arkanasas.  The game will be on ESPN and ESPN3.com.  Don’t be surprised if this game is as intense as yesterday’s – neither of these teams wants to leave quite yet.

CWS Recap Days 1-3: Stony Brook says farewell, Gamecocks defeat Florida


Well.  I’m officially out of the business of making predictions, as I have really been falling flat this year.  It’s been three great days of baseball, and I’m pretty sure today’s games will be equally awesome.  Today’s games are at 5 and 9 p.m. EST on ESPN2 or ESPN3.com.

We’re going to recap this out-of-order, because this is a Gamecocks’ blog, so we should start with them.

Day Two, Bracket Two:

Let’s be honest.  This bracket is the reason you’re reading this.  It’s the one that features 3 SEC teams and the 2 time defending National Champion Gamecocks (saying that will never get old).  We’ll get to the Gamecocks shortly, so just bear with me…

In the first game, Kent State, the only non-SEC team in this bracket, got a crash course in SEC baseball.  They were held to  4 hits and 1 run by Arkansas’ formidable pitching roster.  Arkansas, on the other hand, had a 3-0 lead going into the 6th inning.  By the time the 9th rolled around, the Hogs were on top 8-1.  And that’s how it ended.  Kent State now has to play Florida in an elimination game.  This could get ugly.

Now onto what was probably the most highly anticipated CWS game ever: South Carolina at Florida.  The Gamecocks and the Gators are old frenemies.  They played each other 3 times in the regular season, with Florida winning twice.  Then in the SEC tournament, the Gators won again.  The Gamecocks put a quick stop to that bit of Florida domination with a 7-3 win on Saturday night.  Michael Roth, as we’ve all come to expect, had a pretty stellar outing, going 6 1/3 and allowing 3 runs on 7 hits.  Tyler Webb came in and worked his magic to get 2 quick outs to end the 7th, and then it was Matt Price time.  Price pitched the last two innings, allowing 2 hits and striking out 3, on his way to earning his 12th save this season, and setting the SEC record for career saves at 42.

But let’s be honest.  Price wouldn’t even have been in the game if it hadn’t been for some stellar defense and timely hitting from the Gamecocks.  Florida scored 2 runs in the 3rd, to give themselves the early lead.  The Gators’ pitcher, Brian Johnson, was dealing, and for awhile it looked like the ‘Cocks might be headed for a date with Kent State.  And then the 5th inning happened.  The Gamecocks exploded for 5 runs to take the lead for good.  Evan Marzilli led off the inning with a double, which Christian Walker followed with a single.  Adam Matthews walked to load the bases. Erik Payne came up and smacked a triple to right center field to give the Gamecocks a 3-2 edge.  LB Dantzler then launched a double to center field, scoring Payne.  Dantzler was bunted to 3rd by Tanner English, and then scored on a single from Chase Vergason.  5-2 Gamecocks headed to the bottom of the 5th.  Florida scored in the bottom of the inning, but that was it.  Thanks to a bit of Florida self-destruction, the Gamecocks tacked on a pair in the 9th after a couple wild pitches and errant throws.  Gamecocks take game 1 from the top-seeded Gators, 7-3.

Now onto the defense.  While Florida was imploding, South Carolina was diving all over the field.  Literally.  It started with Michael Roth diving off the mound to catch a pop-up bunt.  Then Chase Vergason got in on the action, flinging himself sideways to keep a ball from leaving the infield, and still making the play at 2nd base.  Then Dante Rosenberg got in on the action, falling face first to the side of home plate to cut off a wild throw.  And then there was Evan Marzilli, who leaped halfway across the outfield to complete an outstanding catch to start the 8th inning.  The catch was good enough for the number 6 spot on Sports Center, and spawned all kinds of witticisms like the one that captions this picture:

Photo by Juan Blas of The Big Spur

In case you had something better to do than watch Gamecock baseball, you can watch the catch here:

Once again, the Gamecocks showed that they know how to play in Omaha.  The win over Florida upped South Carolina’s post-season win streak to 22, and 12 consecutive CWS wins.  What an amazing run.

Florida will face Kent State in an elimination game today at 5 p.m.  South Carolina and Arkansas will meet at 9 p.m.  Both games will be on ESPN2 or ESPN3.com  The loser of the South Carolina/Arkansas game will play the winner of Florida/Kent State on Wednesday at 8 p.m. on ESPN and ESPN3.com.

Bracket One games after the jump….

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Kicking off the CWS: Breaking down Bracket 1


Today is the day.  Day 1 of the College World Series.  The start of what I consider to be the single greatest sporting event of the year.  And for the first time in a couple of years, I’m hard pressed to make predictions.  All 8 teams in the field are awesome.  There aren’t any that are clearly doomed to the 2 and out fate.  There are also aren’t really any teams who have a lock on playing in the title series.  I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to two weeks of phenomenal, close, well-played baseball games.  Each of these teams is going to need to play essentially flawless baseball if they want to win.  So let’s break down Bracket #1 (Bracket #2 coming later when I have a bit more time):

UCLA Bruins:  UCLA (47-14) breezed through the Los Angeles super regional, defeating TCU 6-2 and 4-1.  The Bruins have been on fire, boasting a 5-0 record in the postseason to this point, and a 9-game winning streak.  UCLA shared the regular season Pac-12 title with fellow CWS team Arizona.  As a team, the Bruins boast a .309 batting average and 23 home runs.  On the flip side, UCLA has a respectable team ERA of 3.13.

Stony Brook SeawolvesAnyone who watched the Baton Rouge super regional knows that Stony Brook is not a team to be trifled with.  They lost game 1 after 12 innings and a day long rain delay.  Game 2 featured a fantastic pitching effort from Tyler Johnson, and the Seawolves won 3-1.  Stony Brook dominated game 3, ultimately defeating LSU 7-2 to earn a spot in Omaha.  The Seawolves boast the best record of the remaining teams at 52-13.  While ESPN will have you calling the Seawolves a “Cinderella Story” – they are, after all, only the 2nd #4 regional seed to make it to Omaha (the other being Fresno State in 2008, who went on to win the title that year) – but the Seawolves have been dominating the America East conference for the past few years.  Pair that with some incredibly hot bats (look out for Willie Carmona and Travis Jankowski, the latter being from this humble blogger’s hometown in PA), and solid  pitching, and Stony Brook has a legitimate shot at a title run.  And as a fan of the underdog, if my Gamecocks can’t win it all, I’ll be pulling hard for the Seawolves.

Florida State SeminolesFSU (48-15) scored 25 runs in 2 games against Stanford in the Tallahassee super regional.  Seven of those runs came against Stanford ace and #8 overall draft pick, Marc Appel.  FSU seems to have caught fire at the right time.  The only question is whether or not their bats will continue to dismantle pitchers in Omaha.  My thought is that they will.  Don’t be surprised to see the Seminoles battling with Stony Brook for a spot in the title series.

Arizona WildcatsThe Wildcats (43-17) held on to win a tough game 1 in the 10th inning against St. John’s.  Then they came back in game 2 and won handily, defeating St. John’s 7-4, to win the Tuscon super regional.  Like most teams who make it to Omaha, Arizona got hot at the right time.  That said, in my opinion, they are the weakest link in the field.  The Wildcats rely a bit too much on clutch hits, which are going to be at a premium against a smoking FSU team.  Don’t be surprised to see a Sunday evening game between the Pac-12 co-champions, UCLA and Arizona.

Game 1 of the CWS, between UCLA and Stony Brook, is at 5 p.m. EST on ESPN2 & ESPN3.com.  Game 2, between FSU and Arizona, starts at 9 p.m. on the same channels.  The losers of each game will meet on Sunday at 5 p.m., and the winners will play on Sunday at 9 p.m.  Full coverage and brackets are available through the NCAA’s website.

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